Academics and Research

Students spend spring break learning to fight urban blight

A dozen University of Denver students have spent their spring break this week in a less glamorous climate so they can get a firsthand look at problems plaguing some of Denver’s urban neighborhoods.

The program, Denver Urban Immersion, is offered by DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). It puts students into Denver area neighborhoods for a week so they better understand urban blight.

Jenny Whitcher, associate director of the CCESL, says the program is about offering students “an intense, deep and meaningful immersion into justice issues” in Denver.

“The goal is to give students an experience that will shift their worldview on significant community issues,” Whitcher says.

The course addresses poverty, homelessness, public education, gentrification, industry-polluted neighborhoods and graffiti.

One of the week’s events was a seminar on graffiti, held March 18 at Civic Center Park. Guest speakers discussed the history of graffiti, graffiti as public voice and as an instrument of social change.

Along with homeless teens from Urban Peak, students made their own graffiti on a wall erected for that purpose, communicating issues that they believe the community doesn’t understand or pay attention to.

Other aspects of the program included a tour of Commerce City, where low-income residents are exposed to pollutants from industrial factories; visits to homeless shelters and advocacy groups; a drive through Northwest Denver, which is experiencing gentrification; and talks with area schools.

Religious studies major Joey Lechuga took part in the program last year. “I’ve lived in Denver my whole life, and so it’s very interesting to see the city from a new and completely different perspective,” Lechuga says.

Lechuga says the week paid off for him because he landed an internship with a nonprofit that fights homelessness. “I ended up getting very excited about the city’s plan to end homelessness.”

This is the third year for the program, which was started in spring 2006 by former CCESL associate director Glenn Fee.

Comments are closed.